It's safety first for Packers when looking to plug roster gaps
Ninth in a 10-part Packers draft position-preview series: Secondary.
GREEN BAY - The Packers did not make Adrian Amos a top-10 safety in average annual salary to pigeonhole him into one role. The four-year, $36 million contract he signed indicates the Packers plan to use him in a variety of ways.
But while Amos is capable of doing many things on the back end of a defense, there’s little debate over what he does best. Amos is capable in coverage, but multiple scouts said his strength is playing in the box, where he can make more plays closer to the action.
“Amos is good,” one scout said, “because he can kind of do everything pretty well. He’s probably better as a strong.”
How the Packers approach their safety position in this draft will say a lot about their plans for Amos. It is their history that they cross-train safeties, making them interchangeable between free and strong. If that’s the case, the Packers might aim for a versatile safety capable of doing both. If they want Amos to play mostly in the box, they’re more likely to draft a rangy, center-fielding safety who can cover deep over the middle.
Even with Amos, safety is perhaps the Packers’ biggest roster need entering this draft. Behind Amos, the Packers’ most experienced safety is Josh Jones, a second-round pick in 2017. Jones saw his snaps diminish last season from 731 as a rookie to 501, though his playing time did increase after the Packers traded Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But Jones is a similar player to Amos in that he’s best in the box, and his coverage lapses are much more pronounced. So it remains to be seen how he’ll fit.
The only other safety on the Packers’ roster who played any snaps last season is Raven Greene, who was on the field for only 43. The Packers chose not to tender restricted free agent Kentrell Brice a contract, likely because he too closely mimicked the skill set of Amos and Jones.
Ibraheim Campbell, whom the Packers claimed off waivers from the New York Jets in November, remains a free agent. Campbell played for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine in Cleveland before coming to Green Bay, and he profiles as more of a coverage safety. He impressed in his month with the Packers, playing 112 snaps, but his season ended on injured reserve with a torn ACL. While the Packers could re-sign him at a later date, they’ll certainly wait to see how the draft unfolds.
Priority level: High.
Deionte Thompson, Alabama
The good: Highly touted prep prospect who didn’t play full-time snaps until senior season, so not much wear on his body. Earned first-team All-American recognition last year. Didn’t run at combine, but shows good play speed on film. Rangy center fielder with top-notch potential in coverage. “He’s a ball hawk,” one scout said. Recorded two interceptions and six defended passes last fall. Willing tackler.
The bad: Inconsistent and showed lapses in play through senior season. Raw in identifying proper angles in pursuit. Plays physical but scouts have concerns he can hold up. “Not a first-round pick,” one scout said.
Juan Thornhill, Virginia
The good: Explosive athlete who ran a 4.42 40 with a 44-inch vertical jump and 11-foot, 9-inch broad jump at the combine. “His athletic ability is superb,” one scout described it. Versatile in coverage with ability to drop deep and line up in slot. Good instincts in coverage and great ball skills. Recorded 13 interceptions and 26 defended passes in final three seasons, tying for third nationally with six picks last season. Solid tackler in open space. Tied for seventh in ACC with 98 tackles as a senior.
The bad: Benched 21 reps of 225 pounds but can be overmatched near the line of scrimmage. Much better outside the box than dropping down to defend the run. At times, gets lost hunting the big play.
Taylor Rapp, Washington
The good: Versatile safety capable of playing in the box or dropping in coverage. Great instincts for the position. Big hitter. Good play speed. Six sacks in last two seasons. Finished career with seven interceptions in three years. “He’s better strong just so he can be around the action more,” one evaluator said.
The bad: Stunned scouts with 4.76 40 at pro day. Probably dropped him down a full round. “If he had run in the 4.5s,” a scout said, “you’d be hearing about him in the first round.” Lack of straight-line speed didn’t show on film. “You could pair him with Amos pretty easily,” another scout said.
Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State
The good: Big-time hitter. Dynamic playmaker inside the box. Great range as a run defender and explosive finisher. “He’s more of a classic strong,” one scout said. Ideal fit as a nickel linebacker. Five sacks and 14 tackles for loss in past two seasons. Good leader. First-team all-SEC last year. “He’s probably the No. 1 safety,” another scout said.
The bad: Not a rangy, deep safety. A bit stiff in open space. Only two interceptions in his career. “Coverage is his bugaboo,” a scout said.
Nasir Adderley, Delaware
The good: Cousin of Packers legend and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Herb Adderley. Spent time at cornerback and safety. Smooth athlete with good lateral quickness. Good tackler in run support. Terrific ball skills and ability to drop back and cover deep. Named second-team FCS All-American last season.
The bad: Missed on-field drills at the NFL scouting combine because of ankle injury. Has also battled hamstring injury this spring. “He’s average speed,” one scout said. Ran a reported 4.68 40 at pro day. Might be destined for cornerback. Instincts need further development if he stays at safety. Can miss coverage assignments.
The Packers have pumped more draft assets into their secondary in recent years than any other position. They drafted cornerbacks with their first two picks last spring, the second time in four years. They’ve also spent their first two picks on defensive backs in three of the past four years. Here they are again, in dire need of help in the secondary, but instead of drafting another cornerback it’s the safety position they’re poised to target. The last time the Packers needed a safety this much, they didn’t hesitate. They selected Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the 2014 draft, and though his tenure ended on less than ideal terms (he was traded last season for a fourth-round pick), it did net a second-team All-Pro nod in 2016. As for what kind of safety they’re enticed to draft, it’s hard to say they have a specific prototype. Their last three have been a drop-down defender in the box (Jones), a versatile and balanced safety capable of playing both (Clinton-Dix) and a cover specialist capable of playing corner or deep middle (Micah Hyde). In this case, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of skill set they seek.
Recent draft history
Year, Round, Overall: Player, School
2017, 2, 61 overall: Josh Jones, North Carolina State
2014, 1, 21 overall: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
2013, 5, 159 overall: Micah Hyde, Iowa
2012, 4, 133 overall: Jerron McMillian, Main
2010, 3, 71 overall: Morgan Burnett, Georgia State
A glance at what year the current players at the position are signed through and their age on opening day:
Adrian Amos (25)
Josh Jones (24)
Raven Greene (24)
Jason Thompson (24)
Tray Matthews (24)